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June 16, 2010

Madison district got $23M from taxpayers for aging schools; where did it go?

Susan Troller:

A maintenance referendum may well be a tougher sell this time around than it was when back-to-back, five-year maintenance referendums were approved in 1999 and 2005. Not only do voters feel pinched by the ongoing recession, but taxpayers are facing a likely $225 hike in property taxes this year as part of the effort to balance the Madison schools budget, which took a heavy hit in reduced state aid.

Community support could also be compromised because a growing number of Madison School Board members have become frustrated by what they say is the district's reluctance to adequately account for how maintenance dollars have been spent.

As chair of the School Board's finance and operations committee, Lucy Mathiak has persistently asked for a complete accounting of maintenance jobs funded through the 2005 referendum. The minutes from a March 2009 committee meeting confirm that district administrators said they were working on such a report but Mathiak says the information she's received so far has been less than clear.

"Trying to get this information through two administrations, and then trying to figure it out, is exhausting. The whole thing is a mess. I'm not, by any means, the first board member to ask these kind of questions regarding accountability," Mathiak says. "You ask for straightforward documentation and you don't get it, or when it comes it's a data dump that's almost impossible to understand."

That lack of transparency might make it more difficult for other School Board members to get on board with another referendum.

"We have a responsibility to provide an accurate record of what happened with the funding," says board member Arlene Silveira, who has supported all other school referendums. "I think people understand that other projects may come up and there may be changes from the original plan, but you do need to tell them what was done and what wasn't done and why. It affects (the district's) credibility in the community."

Much more on the 2005 referendum and the District's 2010-2011 budget (including what appears to be a 10% property tax increase here.

Related: "Accountability is important, now more than ever".

Posted by Jim Zellmer at June 16, 2010 6:45 AM
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